The first time I visited a developing country, I was around 8 and my family went to Mexico, but I honestly think I was to young to recognize the poverty around me. Because we were staying in Cozumel, I largely saw the touristy destination side of Mexico, I didn’t see the side of Mexico where people are still deeply struggling with poverty.
When I was 18 I went to Fiji. I was 20 when I went to Peru and I was 22 when I went to Ecuador. Visiting a third world country is one of those deeply eye opening experiences. I feel like if you manage to return to a country like Canada and not value your own privilege even more, then I am sad for you because you have missed something.
I would also like to add that I am perfectly aware of the poverty that exists in Canada, particularly on First Nations reserves. I made a point on focusing on Canadian aboriginal people during university, so Canada, like the USA and other developed countries, is tinged by it’s own tragic poverty in areas.
Fiji was notably not as destitute as Ecuador and Peru. The people their largely lived in decent houses, many of them worked in the tourist industry, but I think that the serious problem here is that so many of the hotels are owned by companies where the headquarters are in the USA, Britain, Canada and Australia etc. so the “big bucks” don’t actually stay in Ecuador because the CEO’s and other people making the most money probably don’t even live in Fiji. As far as I know, that’s a pretty common problem, but I am not a business person – I might be able to deal with PR and marketing, but I don’t really have any authority to try to explain economics. But I sure as hell know that a lot of people are economically disadvantaged. The people lived in tin houses, they didn’t have a lot of belongings.
Peru was surprising. I found out later that Peru actually has a larger problem with crime then I had been aware of going into my vacation. Had I known, I probably could have stood to be more cautious, especially considering I know full well that I was carrying a designer purse while I was there. A lot of petty crimes happen when people are disadvantaged and disenfranchised. Peru was beautiful, the culture was rich, the scenery was gorgeous, and the people were incredibly friendly. I loved Peru. I also think Peru has a large growing economy and that the roads, schools and other important things are improving. However, like in many countries, there is a large disparity between the rich and the poor. Unlike Canada, the disparities in the wealth in Peru were glaring. The kids with worn out clothes and the starving animals broke my heart. It was really the first time I was aware of what real, true poverty looked like. In Canada, even when people are poor, it’s not usually stating you in the face in the same way because it’s not so rampant.
Ecuador was very similar to Peru. Beautiful culture, beautiful country, wonderful people. But glaring poverty. Here I met my 2 sponsor children and I was so grateful to talk to them and see what their lives were like and see how humanitarian organizations can help first hand. Did you know that the most common cause of death amongst children under 5 in developing countries is diarrhoea? I have no source for that – a doctor told me that one time and I was appalled, like no child would ever die of diarrhoea in Canada, it just doesn’t happen, they’d probably get some $5 tablet from a doctor and be better right away, heck, the Canadian child probably wouldn’t have drank the bad water or been so malnourished or what ever else that would have led to the fatal diarrhoea. So yeah, poverty breaks my heart. We went to a village in Ecuador and we were going to play soccer with the kids there and one of the teachers was apologizing to us because some of the kids were wearing torn clothes and had no shoes. She said sorry but that their parents couldn’t afford to buy them shoes or new clothes. First of all, I don’t think anyone should ever have to apologize for their poverty, any more than anyone should have to apologize for their privilege, you are born into the position in life you are born into, though I do think that the more privileged you are, the more you should try to do right by the world.
I’m the kind of person who frequently carries a tablet, cell phone, and iPod in 1 bag. My tablet just lives with me because it holds my books and I never know when I might want to read a book. Any ways, needless to say I am so perfectly aware of my privilege. I think it is so easily to become blinded by that.
It is heartbreaking to go to these countries and see the extreme wealth disparities. You know that, logically, it was fate or chance or what ever that caused you to be born into a place of privilege while someone else wasn’t. No one asks to be born into poverty. Sure, some people fall into lives of crime because they were disenchanted or desperate, but mostly people are just trying to get by.
If I ever needed a reason to want to volunteer my time or my money or my words, it was seeing poverty and knowing that I had to do what ever I could to tell people that the world can be and should be a better place. I can’t even begin to imagine a reality in which getting food is a problem. I know that being a student can be hard, it can be hard to afford healthy food or gym memberships or even bills as a student, but hey, being a student is still an amazing place of privilege even if bills are tight because going to college or university still means you come out with something that so many people don’t have – an education. I can’t even begin to imagine not being able to read basic signs. Like how would you even do something simple like read a menu, fill out a government form, or read the directions if you didn’t even know what the letters meant?
Since I’ve seen it, I can appreciate my privilege so much more, how fortunate I am to operate from the place that I am in. I would love to send everyone to a developing country. One of the strangest things is driving from one area where everything is extremely wealthy to another area that is incredibly poor. People own sports cars and fancy homes while a disproportionate amount of people live in poverty. One thing I noticed is that countries like Ecuador and Peru really seem to be trying to improve. Both countries have a reputation for corrupt governments and police officers and stuff but I think that it’s not all bad and is improving a lot. I am not saying everyone has to go out and donate hundreds of dollars or anything. Maybe all you can do is donate a little time – humane society, volunteering with kids, helping people learn English, what ever is your interest it helps in ways that are so hard to even imagine.